Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Stralman absence magnified in trying time

COLUMBUS — The Lightning is still holding out hope defenseman Anton Stralman can play on this three-game road trip, which continues tonight against the Blue Jackets.

Stralman's return can't come soon enough for Tampa Bay, which has felt the top-pair defenseman's absence since he was sidelined eight games ago with an upper body injury. The Lightning (13-9-1) has lost two straight and heads into difficult venues in Columbus and St. Louis.

Having Stralman would certainly help.

"Ask Boston what it's like not having (Zdeno) Chara, or ask Chicago what it's like not having (Duncan) Keith," coach Jon Cooper said. "Stralman, Keith and Chara are three completely different defensemen. But they all have the same impact on their team in a positive way. When you lose someone of that nature that plays 22-25 minutes a night, a veteran, calming influence back there, plus a right-hand shot that we're lacking, it affects your team."

Like the beginning of last year's playoffs, the Lightning is grinding it out without Stralman and captain Steven Stamkos, who is out until at least mid March after knee surgery. But overcoming the loss of Stamkos, as great of a player he is, is more manageable than replacing Stralman for one main reason: depth.

The Lightning doesn't have enough of it on its blueline. You can argue that even with Stralman back, Tampa Bay needs to try to acquire another defenseman before March's trade deadline.

As many strides as Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov have made, they shouldn't have to be leaned on as much as they have. Nesterov played more than 21 minutes Sunday for the second time in a week. Slater Koekkoek, with just 26 career NHL games under his belt, has shown flashes but has occasional rough nights like Sunday, when he was a minus-3. Braydon Coburn and Jason Garrison are capable veterans, but the Lightning could use another top-four caliber defenseman, specifically a strong puck-mover.

"That is the area that's really in need of improvement," said TSN analyst Craig Button, a former NHL general manager. "They've got (Victor) Hedman and Stralman, but they don't have a really good No. 2 (defenseman) or a really good No. 4. They need the right fit that can link Hedman, Stralman and the group together."

Those type of defensemen are hard to find, and aren't cheap. Think Jacob Trouba, if the Jets defenseman were still available.

And this is not as simple as trying to swapping goalie Ben Bishop for blueline help, although it might come to that at the March trade deadline. As good as Andrei Vasilevskiy has been (6-1, 1.50 goals-against average), you'd still need a reliable partner/backup for him if Bishop is moved. There's still a chance Bishop and Vasilevskiy finish the season as a tandem. Maybe GM Steve Yzerman taps into his forward depth?

With Stamkos out, Tyler Johnson has elevated his game; his six-game points streak was snapped Sunday. Wing Jonathan Drouin had a team-high eight shots Sunday and might be the difference-maker he was without Stamkos in the playoffs last season.

The Lightning could use another difference-maker on the blueline.

NOTE: Forward Erik Condra was reassigned to Syracuse.

Stralman absence magnified in trying time 11/28/16 [Last modified: Monday, November 28, 2016 9:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Alex Faedo, Florida advance to face LSU in College World Series finals

    College

    OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Faedo pitched three-hit ball for 71/3 innings in a second straight strong performance against TCU, and Florida moved to the College World Series finals with a 3-0 win Saturday night.

    Florida’s Austin Langworthy scores on a single by Mike Rivera in the second inning during a 3-0 victory over TCU.
  2. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. Rays journal: Jumbo Diaz falters after getting within a strike of ending rally

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday's game got away starting with a leadoff walk in the seventh inning by Rays LHP Jose Alvarado, who was brought in exclusively to face Baltimore's lefty-swinging Seth Smith.

    Rays reliever Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Orioles score four during the seventh inning to give them a 7-3 lead. Diaz was one strike away from working out of the jam before he allowed a two-run double and a two-run homer on back-to-back pitches.
  4. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  5. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    It was refreshing to see RHP Jacob Faria take the blame after the loss even though he gave the Rays a chance to win. Too often young pitchers are encouraged by what they did and not necessarily the outcome, but Faria, making just his fourth big-league start, came to the Trop to win, didn't, and pointed the finger …